Bright Lights, Reel City
There are myriad stories to tell in Miami. Two-bit fraud schemes, big-time drug smugglers, and quirky tales of immigrants in America add fodder to a screenwriter or director's imagination. The city is, after all, a funky and cinematically appealing world to set a movie in. Add to that television shows such as CSI: Miami and the big-money Spanish-language networks, and it's no wonder the film and video industry spends billions of dollars each year shooting and producing here.
In an attempt to show Miamians all of the work that is produced in the city, the Made in Miami Film and Video Festival, now in its second year, will be screening almost 50 feature films, videos, and television works that were either shot or edited in the region. For ten days, the Tower Theater in Little Havana will be featuring the local productions -- from big-budget features to homegrown independent films.
"A lot of films that are made here go on to different festivals and do well there," explains Jack Wolfe, spokesman and co-director of the festival. "People here in Miami as a community never get a chance to see them." So Wolfe and co-director Karen Vissepo strung together foreign-language and English documentaries, short films, and television projects, each with a particularly Miamian flavor.
"It's about spotlighting a broad range of film and television production that spans a wide variety of languages and cultures," says Vissepo.
Broad indeed. Among this year's entries are ten premieres, according to Wolfe, including American Gun; in the feature film by Alan Jacobs, James Coburn plays a man whose daughter is shot to death. The film explores the history of the gun not just as a weapon, but as a central part of American culture. It was the last film Coburn acted in before his death last year. Another entry is Ocean Avenue, a Spanish-language telenovela that was shot entirely in Miami and produced by gringo native son Bill O'Dowd.
But while American Gun and Ocean Avenue may represent the big-budget projects that come to town, the bulk of the screenings offer a more individual feel.
Among the local projects with specific Miami themes is La Americanita, by Erin Ploss-Campoamor, the story of a young gringa-looking Cuban woman and her journey to the United States across the Florida Straits. The Cuban diaspora is also central in Mas Alla del Mar, a docudrama that traces the experiences of a family who came to Miami during the Mariel boatlift.
Perhaps the film with the most hometown flavor (it beats out the fifteen-minute short Vote Early Vote Often by New World School of the Arts grad Steve Procko) is Just Like You Imagined, a thirty-minute short that deals with the lives of several young people and their experiences with HIV and AIDS. The film was written by Verena Faden, a student at Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High, and produced by Miamian Gary Sales. The screening includes a short video of the making of Just Like You Imagined and its location shoots across Miami.
While many of the films are unknown to mass audiences, Wolfe says, most of them will begin screening this year at several festivals across the nation. Last year the festival drew nearly 7000 people at the old Mercury Theatre, he says. This year organizers expect more people as they have a larger venue and four additional days.
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